Sample from the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

By Swami Karunananda

When I think of what it means to really live Yoga, I recall a very special visit in late December, about thirty years ago. I was serving as director of the San Francisco IYI, and Sri Gurudev was coming to California to attend the celebration of his Jayanthi (the anniversary of his birth) in San Francisco, and be with us for Christmas and our New Years retreat in Santa Barbara. It was hardly more than a week on the calendar, but in the intense whirlwind of devotion and service that was generated, lessons for a lifetime were learned and recorded. These lessons can be understood as basic principles for really living Yoga.

The staff at the San Francisco IYI was responsible for coordinating all these events, as well as for housing and hosting the many guests who were coming from all over the country for the festivities. We were few in number, and the task seemed monumental. But by some miracle, everything was accomplished, which brings us to:

Principle #1: As Sri Gurudev often remarked, “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Where there’s heart, there’s always room.”

The very walls of the house seemed to expand to accommodate all our guests and the hundreds of devotees who came to receive Sri Gurudev’s blessings.

The weekend began auspiciously. In the morning, we had a beautiful puja in honor of Sri Gurudev’s Jayanthi and, in the evening we enjoyed a wonderful program of offerings at a public hall. The grand finale was an extraordinary slide show in honor of Sri Gurudev. It was so inspiring that at its conclusion, the entire audience of about seven hundred people jumped to their feet in a standing ovation. This spirit of devotion and jubilation continued as we proceeded to an Indian restaurant for a late night banquet.

By the time we were done, it was nearly two in the morning. Sri Gurudev entered an elevator in order to exit the building, and then began calling others to come into the elevator as well. There was a large sign posted inside that read: “Maximum capacity 12 people; do not exceed.” With utter disregard and a distinct air of mischief, he gathered about 30 of us into that tiny conveyance. When we were crammed in so close that we could barely move, Sri Gurudev reached forward and pushed the button. The door closed, the elevator started to move, and then, with a sudden lurch, stopped between floors.

So there we were in the wee hours of a Sunday morning trapped in an elevator with our beloved Gurudev. There were devotees on the floors above and below us, chanting and praying. Others began calling all over the city trying to locate a repairman. At this point, I had the thought: “We don’t know how long we may be in here. The most important thing is to conserve oxygen. We should all be as still as possible.” As if in response to my thought, Sri Gurudev immediately declared that everyone should start chanting Rama, Rama—which is a powerful mantra that kindles the inner fire. So, not only would be using up the physical oxygen, but on a subtle level, we would be creating a lot of heat, too.

As the minutes passed, people began responding in different ways. Some repeatedly tried pushing the buttons. One person tried to climb out the top of the compartment. Some were calm; others panicked. After about forty minutes, Sri Gurudev serenely reached over and pressed the button. The elevator immediately proceeded to the ground level, and we all took a deep, grateful breath as we left the building.

On the way back to the Institute, we asked Sri Gurudev to explain the strange order of events that we had just experienced. He replied that it was really quite simple. God wanted to make a test and, when He got all the information He needed, the test was over. It was not necessary for it to continue any longer. From this experience, we can glean two more principles:

Principle #2: Realize that there is always a Higher Plan behind all that unfolds. Have faith in a positive outcome and trust that, ultimately, it’s all for good.

Principle #3: When faced with challenging circumstances, know that the moment the karma is purged, the situation will change…

Read the rest of this article in the Spring 2008 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.